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The Government placed details of our policy in a Written Ministerial Statement on 4 December 2006, which gives a full explanation of our understanding of a dumb cluster munition, and of our plan to withdraw from service those dumb variants by the middle of the next decade. Officials have been asked to examine the possibility of an earlier withdrawal date.

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Lord Garden: My Lords, the news of an earlier date is very welcome, but what is wrong with a date some time this year? Is it purely a financial problem?

Baroness Crawley: No, my Lords, it is not a financial problem but an issue of a capability gap with regard to our Armed Forces.

First, we should recognise that cluster munitions are lawful weapons when used in compliance with international humanitarian law, and that there are certain circumstances when our Armed Forces may need to use them and where they can do so lawfully. I emphasise that when our Armed Forces use any weapon, including cluster munitions, they do so only in strict compliance with international humanitarian law.

On the second issue, it may be useful if I give a brief overview of those occasions when it is necessary to use cluster munitions. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords have questioned that necessity but the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, sees the necessity in some circumstances, from his experience. There are certain compelling circumstances when the British Armed Forces may need to use cluster munitions in conflict, including for force protection. In that sense, I know that what I am saying will disappoint my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden and other noble Lords.

In certain conflict situations, our Armed Forces need to be able to destroy, suppress or neutralise dispersed enemy armour, other combat forces or military facilities in a defined area of terrain. Cluster munitions can deliver the required effect at a distance and allow the field commander to conduct that battle in an area of his choosing. That gives him a tactical advantage to select target areas to minimise collateral damage and enables him to reduce the number of enemy that must be dealt with in a contact battle. Depriving field commanders of this option risks producing a more intense level of combat when our troops make contact with the enemy, with the inevitable consequence of higher military casualties on both sides, as well as potentially higher civilian casualties.

As noble Lords will know, the use of all weapons, including cluster munitions, is governed by the law of armed conflict. The law of armed conflict or international humanitarian law contains the key principles and rules that govern the United Kingdom's military targeting process. That process is undertaken in strict compliance with that law. Military planners evaluate each target on a case-by-case basis for its legality, proceeding with the attack only when consequences for civilians would not be random or excessive in relation to the military advantage. They determine the most appropriate weapon to deploy in order to achieve the military goal. Military lawyers provide the necessary legal advice during targeting deliberations. The use of any weapon must be: discriminate; proportionate—an issue raised by the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Salisbury and of Coventry—necessary; and only military objectives may be attacked. Only military objectives are targeted and all feasible precautions are taken, with a view to avoiding and in any event minimising civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects.

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In the UK there is a clear thread running through international humanitarian law, through doctrine and training, into targeting procedures and rules of engagement. Commanders judge the degree of force to employ to achieve the mission, subject always to compliance with international humanitarian law. Of course we recognise that there remains the vital issue of munitions that fail to detonate on impact—an issue which I think nearly all noble Lords raised in their contributions—and leave unexploded ordnance in the battle area, an issue raised specifically by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with all his military experience, my noble friend Lord Berkeley and others. The UK played an active role in the United Nations in bringing about the new Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, which is legally binding on states that have ratified it. The United Kingdom hopes to ratify it as soon as possible. My noble friend Lord Judd asked why we have not ratified it. There is no policy reason; we will ratify it as soon as we can. But we have already put in practice its obligations.

The convention requires states in control of territory on which explosive remnants of war are found to clear, mark, remove or destroy them. States using munitions that may become explosive remnants of war must record information on their use and then transmit it to humanitarian clearance organisations to facilitate clearance. The UK already provides the information, as well as funding £10 million per annum for clearance projects in conflict areas. In Iraq, for example, where the UK has cleared more than 1 million items of abandoned or unexploded ordnance, we have made a significant effort to assist and educate the local population in the danger of unexploded ordnance including working with teachers in the Basra region to make children in particular aware of the dangers.

The third issue I wish to address is the United Kingdom's efforts to tackle cluster munitions in the international community. The recent review conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons addressed cluster munitions as a core element of its work. At the conference the United Kingdom played a leading role, seeking and achieving a mandate through consensus that will urgently address the legitimate concerns about cluster munitions. If we are to address such munitions effectively, by which I mean delivering real humanitarian benefit to people in conflict zones, we must not only include in discussions the main producers and users of cluster munitions but persuade them of the argument that humanitarian concerns about the use of cluster munitions outweigh their legitimate security concerns.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but does she accept that it is not quite the case that the CCW is the only group to have users and producers? The Ottawa convention was negotiated outside the framework. There are 10 producers, 17 stockpilers and three exporters in the Oslo group. Does she accept that there is no need to restrict ourselves to the CCW framework and its long timescale?

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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we take Kofi Annan’s view on this, which is to use the CCW framework as a starting point to bring together the main actors in a UN process and to try to work with that with all urgency before looking outside the process.

A discussion mandate, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd, is an essential step to defining cluster munitions, including specific definitions, and framing the context of a negotiating mandate. We see the discussion mandate, so much criticised by noble Lords today, as a starting point—a vital first step towards that negotiating mandate, bringing as many people as possible into the tent of that negotiation. The mandate addresses the adequacy of existing humanitarian law, whether it is being implemented diligently and factors affecting the reliability of cluster munitions. Those three issues were raised again and again by noble Lords. The discussion mandate involves all three. With that in mind, the group of government experts, including experts from the UK, will, as noble Lords know, report back to the conference by November 2007.

Lord Elton: My Lords, will the noble Baroness kindly remind us when the CCW was first convened and whether 2006 is an appropriate year for a first step?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I refer to a first step on this aspect of looking at cluster munitions. The aspect has been raised this year. We will have a first report back, which we hope will lead to a negotiating mandate, within a year. While that is not satisfactory for many noble Lords, the Government believe that it is a satisfactory timescale. I am aware that some states want to move directly to a negotiating mandate, but I have to report that, following extensive consultations by our team at the conference, at this stage such a mandate has not gained consensus among the main users of cluster munitions.

I shall outline the consequences for our Armed Forces were the Bill to become law. While this Bill prohibits the use, production, acquisition, possession and transfer of cluster munitions, I want to cover here only the prohibition on the use of them, because it seems to me that that is the core element of the Bill. The Bill would prevent our Armed Forces using those munitions that fall within the scope of the draft definition of the Bill, a definition that is more restrictive than that we have used in international discussions and than our understanding of a dumb cluster munition.

The prohibition in the Bill would deny our Armed Forces an anti-armour capability and a capability to suppress and neutralise enemy forces. It would create serious capability gaps for the Royal Air Force until planned replacement weapon systems attain full operational readiness in 2010 and capability gaps for the Army out to 2015. But, as I said, we are looking at that timescale. I am sure that this House would not wish to impose serious capability gaps on our Armed Forces that would have detrimental impacts on their overall operational effectiveness, undermine their ability to conduct combat missions in conflict zones and deny them a degree of force protection in combat situations.

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Noble Lords asked a number of questions, which I shall try to go through as quickly as possible. My noble friend Lord Dubs asked why we do not phase out these munitions before 2015 and why we do not ban them now. I say to him that all our munitions, including cluster munitions, are procured and held to meet a specific capability. We constantly keep that process under review, as technology evolves and as new systems enter service to replace obsolete weapons. In that context, when we replace munitions they are destroyed and put beyond use. However, to attain the necessary operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces and to ensure that they have the systems that they need to conduct the operations that we ask of them, we cannot withdraw extant systems until the replacement ones are declared operational and fit for purpose. However, as I have said three times now, MoD officials are examining the possibility of withdrawing them earlier.

My noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about a moratorium. We would consider that to have the same effect as a ban. We shall withdraw dumb cluster munitions from service by the middle of the next decade. My noble friend Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Garden, asked about the military effectiveness of cluster munitions and used the example, as they saw it, that they cannot defeat main battle tank armour. All weapons systems, including cluster munitions, are designed to have certain effects against differing types of target. The cluster munitions that the UK uses remain effective against the target sets that they were designed to deal with. Certain types of target, notably main battle tanks, are particularly difficult to destroy. That may not be necessary, as mobility kills are an effective way to reduce enemy fighting power. Again, the other types of target that we require cluster munitions to attack, including light armoured vehicles, troops and military facilities, remain vulnerable to our current range of cluster munitions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about an assessment of the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions and about field data evaluating the humanitarian impact. Our Armed Forces recognise the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, and that is a key element of the ultimate decisions about whether to use them. Post-conflict, our clearance operations collect data about numbers of unexploded ordnance, and in Iraq we have cleared over 1 million items of unexploded ordnance. The UK keeps records of firing data and targets, but we cannot gather data of unexploded ordnance during conflict.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry talked about the morality of using cluster munitions. Morality is implicit in the law of armed conflict, which is based on both humanitarian and moral foundations, and this country uses cluster munitions in compliance with that law. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and other noble Lords asked why we should have only a discussion mandate. We have been through that. We believe that it is an important first step towards a negotiating mandate.

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The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about clearing up the battlefield. That is now an international norm, as he will know, which is enshrined in Protocol V of the CCW. The UK intends, as I said to my noble friend Lord Judd, to ratify Protocol V at the earliest opportunity, and in practice follows its obligations already. The noble Lord, whose intervention was welcomed by everyone, talked about the use of weapons in types of current conflict. Retaining a weapon in the infantry does not imply that it would be used in every deployment; but a range of operations, including war fighting, remain possible, and we need current technology to deal with the battlefield threats that our forces may face in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said that, in her view, smart bombs were not smart. Of course, it is to our advantage militarily to reduce failure rates to the absolute minimum: it means that we use fewer munitions to achieve the desired effect and we do not have the military and humanitarian problems of unexploded ordnance. However, movements are towards more developed cluster munitions, with greater accuracy and reliability. We hope that that will leave fewer unexploded ordnances and reduce the humanitarian risks.

A number of other noble Lords have asked questions and I shall of course write to them. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked about failure rates and asked me to confirm that we have abandoned all use of airdrop cluster munitions. The Government seek to reduce failure rates, as failures have both military and humanitarian impacts. New weapon systems have more stringent design criteria to reduce those rates. With regard to explosive remnants of war, Protocol V of the CCW will set a legal obligation to reduce failure rates.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked me a specific question about cluster-munition stocks, and I will end with that. MoD policy is to replace munitions with ones containing self-destruct mechanisms. As the noble Earl knows, when munitions are phased out, they are put beyond use and are normally destroyed. We do not intend to keep them in store for longer than required, but in some cases we intend to replace them with guided unitary systems where that provides us with the same capability as a cluster munition—that is, with increased reliability and accuracy.

In conclusion, the Bill has a humanitarian element at its core, which we applaud, but it does not recognise the arguments of military necessity or the need to equip our Armed Forces to undertake the missions that we ask of them. For those reasons, we believe that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is inconsistent with our current military requirements, and that is why the Government have reservations about it.

1.57 pm

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate; it is one of the most interesting that I have had the privilege to hear in my time in this House. I am grateful for the thoughtful way in which everyone has addressed this very difficult issue.

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I do not believe that a single Member of this House would want to do anything to weaken the capability and capacity of our Armed Forces. If that were the case, I do not think that those of us who have supported the Bill would have done so. I certainly would not. But I do not believe that this measure would weaken our Armed Forces any more than they were weakened by the ban on anti-personnel landmines. No one has argued that our forces are weaker in the field or anywhere else because they cannot now use anti-personnel landmines. No one has argued that from any Front Bench or from anywhere else, yet I believe that in military terms the two propositions are similar—cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines have the same effect. Why are we against them? We are against them because, in the main, they damage innocent civilians, not just during conflict but long afterwards.

I listened very carefully to my noble friend. We have been personal friends for a long time and I am sure that we shall go on being so. I am sorry that I have put her in a virtually impossible position, but that is what she is paid for. However, we have to look at what the Government said, and I shall read the Minister’s words with a great deal of interest. In a sense, she circumscribed the future use of these weapons in such a way that I doubt whether our military would find it easy to use them. If they had the Hansard reference in front of them, they would say, “We can’t do this. It’s just not possible”. The weapons have now been so circumscribed that I do not think their use is militarily realistic, even if the military wanted to use them. We heard that the military might need cluster munitions, but the arguments persuaded me that there is no sensible military justification for their use. There might have been in the days when the Soviet Union could deploy hundreds of tanks and millions of troops, but that is not the situation.

Using weapons that turn people against us does enormous political damage to us and our allies, and that must be taken into account. We are not just doing this because the fighting is all; we are doing it because there are at stake issues of democracy and human rights throughout the world. If we turn people against us because they do not believe that we are sincere in what we are doing, we are not benefiting our cause. That is why I am concerned about the Government’s arguments, which have not convinced me.

Noble Lords will appreciate that so many comments were made that if I went through them all, I would outstay my welcome, and I do not want to do that. However, one point was not raised; I would like to pay tribute to the very brave people around the world who go on operations to clear up cluster weapons. They risk their lives every day, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere in the world, as a consequence of these weapons. They are brave and have a sense of self-sacrifice, but, alas, from time to time they are injured or killed. We should thank them for what they do on our behalf.

I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said about Lebanon and Israel. There were important contributions from the Bishops’ Bench about morality and proportionality. My noble friend Lady Whitaker talked about having seen people, including children,

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injured by these weapons in various countries, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made clear that, even if in the past there was a military use for these weapons, the world has changed and they are no longer necessary. I was persuaded by his arguments, as I was by those of—I cannot say the Foreign Office, because that would be quite wrong—the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who was speaking in a personal capacity but whose arguments bore the imprint of years of senior work in the Foreign Office. I shall put it that way to avoid embarrassing the noble Lord, whom I have known and respected for a long time.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that we should use these weapons only if—I hope I have his words right—there were reliable self-destruction mechanisms within the bombs. Given the doubts about that, I almost suggest that he is virtually on our side. I do not wish to provoke the noble Earl too much, but almost the effect of what he said is that he is with us, even if, in theory, he is not quite so. However, I appreciate that he speaks from particularly recent experience, which is very important.

I was interested in the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about whether these weapons are not already illegal. It is an interesting argument, but we have to persuade others. My noble friend Lord Judd spoke about his time with Oxfam, and the years of military experience of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, showed in all that he said.

I was disappointed that the most negative contribution came from the Conservative Front Bench. It was as negative as that from the Government, if not more so. I do not wish to make this debate less serious, but when I was first elected to the Commons, I voted against the Government in my first Division, and a friend of mine told me that when both Front Benches agree, the rest of us had better be careful. However, the issue is more serious than that.

I welcome the Minister’s small concession when she said that the Government would look at whether some of these weapons could be banned earlier than 2015, but I hope they will be able to go further. There is an important humanitarian cause in this. What we do and how we constrain our Armed Forces are not enough, because other countries watch what we do and take their cue from us, and they will not respect humanitarian law as our Armed Forces have to. The international dimension is important, and we must set an example.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

European Union (Information, etc.) Bill [HL]

2.05 pm

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. We have just had a most important and lengthy debate on a crucial subject, to be followed by an important but comparatively very modest Bill. If I timidly suggest to noble Lords that the debate need not take too long, it is not because the subject is unimportant but because it is relatively

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uncontroversial. I say that as I gaze at the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, who has recently arrived in the Chamber, maybe to take part in the debate. He nods in affirmation. He is very welcome.

I hope that the Bill is uncontroversial. I remind the House that we have been members of the European Union for three decades and three years. There will be a major series of celebrations next year for the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, to which we adhered in 1973. In those days it was a much less elaborate Community than it is now as a European Union.

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